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Supreme Court Approves Indefinite Detention of Immigrants

ICE can continue incarcerating any immigrant — legal or undocumented — for years at a time.

Yerlin Yessehia, 11, of Honduras waits with her family along the border bridge after being denied entry into the U.S. from Mexico on June 25, 2018, in Brownsville, Texas.

President Trump has faced significant criticism for his immigration policy, yet the administration has managed to find a friend on this issue in the Supreme Court. The nation’s highest court decided that ICE may detain immigrants indefinitely while awaiting deportation proceedings.

As a consequence, ICE can continue putting any immigrant — legal or undocumented — into a detention center for perhaps years at a time if the individual has ever committed a crime. Not only is there no timeline for how long immigrants can be held in these centers, but immigrants can also be apprehended years after the crimes — even relatively minor ones — without warning.

Traditionally, if the government feels an immigrant warrants deportation after serving a criminal sentence, U.S. officials almost immediately set that process in motion. The Trump administration, however, has contested that the law only stipulates “when the alien is released” – presumably with the intent to kick out immigrants remaining in the country under previous administrations.

While the five conservative justices thought this was a fair interpretation, the four liberal justices dissented pretty strongly. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the court’s decision “runs the gravest risk of depriving those whom the government has detained of the oldest and most important of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”

Indeed, it seems completely unfair to lock people up for crimes they already served time for — even if the second time is technically in a detention center, not a prison.

Worse yet, the conservative justices seemed to understand that this policy poses a threat to constitutional rights. After all, Justice Samuel Alito’s majority decision allows for the possibility that an immigrant could have grounds to challenge the legality of such a detention. In the meantime, immigrants will have to do their best to maneuver through this complex and unjust system.

Long ago, the plaintiff in the case, Mony Preap, served jail time for two minor drug offenses. Seven years after Preap got out of prison, ICE put him in an immigrant detention for months on the basis of his previous crimes — even though he was in the country legally with a green card. Moreover, Preap had no recourse to pay a bond to get out of detention while awaiting the immigration court’s decision. The ruling ultimately allowed him stay to in the country.

As a result of this new SCOTUS decision, other immigrants like Preap will lose their freedom over crimes they were already punished for. For the Trump administration, it’s not a matter of making America safer; it’s about being cruel to immigrants in every possible way imaginable.